Streak snapped, Cajuns think they can reel off some wins

Tim Buckley
The Daily Advertiser
Ragin' Cajuns running back Trey Ragas finds space in the Idaho secondary during UL's 21-16 win Saturday.

As UL coach Mark Hudspeth tells it, he recently shared an anecdote with people close to him about how the Ragin’ Cajuns “reeled off” seven straight wins after losing to Louisiana Tech three years ago.

And three years ago, the Cajuns did lose to Louisiana Tech. 48-20. The next week they lost at Ole Miss. 56-15. The week after that they lost at Boise State. 34-9.

Times were tough early in 2014.

Then they "reeled off" six in row (not actually seven) after their 1-3 start, later beat Nevada in the New Orleans Bowl and finished 9-4.

But never mind nitty-gritty details.

Hudspeth’s point: Even though the Cajuns were 1-3 before visiting Idaho on Saturday, not all hope in 2017 was lost.

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 “I mean, we’ve been in this position before,” he was saying last week.

“We didn’t get off to the start we would have liked, but, man, this season’s early and this football team is still battling, and we’ve overcome some things, and our football team is getting better.

“These guys are resilient. Man, they’re really focused. They’re excited about the next eight regular-season games,” Hudspeth added then. “They realize the season is still very young, and they’re ready to get off to a new start.”

That was that, and Hudspeth wasn’t about to let anything — or anyone — get him down.

Sure enough, that fresh start he referenced began with a 21-16 win Saturday at Idaho that ended UL's three-game losing streak.

Backup quarterback Andre Nunez led the way, replacing starter Jordan Davis after two series and finishing 18-of-24 for 213 yards including a 45-yard touchdown throw to Ja’Marcus Bradley early in the third quarter that made it 21-10.

Running back Trey Ragas had 17 carries for 78 hard-earned yards, including a 1-yard TD run in the second quarter that followed Wildcat QB Dion Ray’s 3-yard TD run late in the first.

A defense much-maligned early this year did its job, too, allowing two second-half field goals but holding tight and getting the ball back on downs as Idaho tried to drive starting with just more than four minutes to go.

In his first game back at Buck defensive end following a failed experiment at inside linebacker, Joe Dillon led that side for UL with five tackles including two for loss with one sack and three quarterback hurries.

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After allowing a national-worst 53.8 points per game along with 563.5 yards per game through four games, third-worst in the country, the Cajuns allowed now 2-3 Idaho just 279 yards of total offense.

It was just what the doctor ordered for a Cajun club that’s started 1-3 not only this year and in 2014, but also in 2015, when it finished 4-8.

(UL opened 2-2 through four games and 2-4 through six before finishing 6-7 with a New Orleans Bowl loss to Southern Mississippi last year; the last time it started better than .500 through four games was when it was 3-1 in 2012.)

So hope for a sixth bowl appearance in seven seasons remains alive and, after Saturday, better for the 2-3 Cajuns.

It’s still an uphill battle, especially with UL having to play on a short turnaround — the Cajuns are host to Texas State in an ESPNU-televised Thursday night — after flying about 2,400 miles up Idaho on Friday afternoon and another 2,400 or so back down Saturday night.

The Bobcats are just 1-5 after losing 45-27 to Saturday to UL Monroe, and UL is 4-0 against them all-time — all since 2013.

But after that the Cajuns must travel to face 2-2 Arkansas State for another Thursday-night game Oct. 19.

That starts a stretch with three in a row for UL, along with a Nov. 4 visit to South Alabama and a Nov. 11 non-conference visit to Ole Miss.

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Now needing to win four of their final seven to become bowl-eligible again, the Cajuns then close their regular season with New Mexico State and Georgia State at home and, on Dec. 2, Appalachian State in bound-to-be-chilly Boone, North Carolina.

It’s a tall task, but one not insurmountable if the Cajuns can maintain the same sort of approach they did before heading to Idaho.

Last week, Hudspeth said that “in a lot of areas, we’re really good,” but in the same breath conceded that “in a lot of areas, we’re not very good.”

But at least, from the sound of it, dispositions didn’t get bad.

“Could not be more excited about the attitude of our football team right now, the way they are responding, the way they’re working, the way they’re pushing and still they know that they’ve got a lot of great football ahead of them,” Hudspeth said at the start of the week, after having spent the prior bye week stewing over a 56-50 double-overtime loss to UL Monroe.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in these guys,” the Cajuns coach added then. “If you saw their work ethic, if you see their attitudes right now, you would say the same thing.”

And maybe even would be tempted to think they can reel off a few more.

Not that anyone’s counting.